Let’s be honest: this season is a wash. The rotation is in disarray, and over the last couple of games the offense has slowed to a trickle while the defense is up to its old tricks. I expected a lot from this team and they’ve disappointed me. They have too many utility players (Izturis, Bonifacio, DeRosa, Kawasaki), too many platoon players (Lind, Rajai, Rasmus), and their pitching is too poor for the Jays to get much better, let alone make up the ground between themselves and the rest of the division.
This doesn’t take into account the players who have no place on a winning team (Blanco, Arencibia). Check that: White Hank is a decent player who doesn’t contribute much any more. He could play for a winner if the #1 catcher was Piazza or Bench or Berra or Some Other All Time Great behind the plate. Heck, I’d even take Ernie Lombardi or Ernie Whitt as the #1.
All through May we watched Melky Cabrera round into form, as he escaped the doldrums to start hitting to his non-performance-enhanced capabilities. It was fun to watch him begin to tear the cover off the ball, as most believed he could. What difference did it make, though? Truthfully, not much. The Jays were bad in April (10-17, .370), and they were marginally less bad in May (13-15, .464). It’s unreasonable to expect them to improve by 8-10% each month: they can’t sustain a win streak. Injuries and poor play are obstacles too great for them to improve substantially and Melky isn’t good enough to carry a team.
Let me introduce you to the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies. They had a decent offense on paper, had a lot of questions on defense, and a middling-to-poor rotation. Keep in mind that the ‘pen wasn’t a significant factor at the time, and that baseballs flew around like super balls.
The Phils had an honest-to-goodness superstar in Chuck Klein (153 wRC+/6.5 fWAR). Klein is one of my favourite historical baseball players and I think Bill James summed him up pretty well: unquestioned excellence, but marginal greatness. He was sort of the Bobby Bonds of his generation. They had one other good player—Lefty O’Doul (143 wRC+/4.3 fWAR)—and played in the Baker Bowl, one of the NL bandboxes of the day.
The rest of the team was a dizzying collection of sub-2.0 fWAR major league wannabes. To wit, they had a middle infield consisting of SS Tommy Thevenow who, in 156 games (in a 154-game season) would ‘accumulate’ -3.6 fWAR and 2B Fresco Thompson, who was -2.6 fWAR. Their Fld numbers were -20.0 and -23.0, respectively, though I figure ‘respect’ had very little to do with it. Their catcher, Spud Davis, put up decent HR/RBI numbers and hit .313, but was a 90 wRC+/1.1 fWAR player and the Phillies hit .315 as a team.
Led by Chuck Klein, their offense kept them in a lot of games and even pulled some games out of the hat. Their suspect pitching and defense was hidden behind a lot of 8-5 and 10-7 games. Their pitching functioned like a roll of duct tape; their offense was good enough to go on little runs now and then. Monk Sherlock was a utility player (1B/2B/CF) who got far too many PAs (335) for his talent level. Does this sound familiar? Keep reading.
The Phils started poorly but their fortunes declined rapidly after the 52-game mark. On June 2, they beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-6 to push their record to 13-23. Then on June 21, they beat St. Louis 13-3 again. Their record stood at 23-29. They followed this brief high-point (10-6 over 19 days) with a 9-game losing streak, as their defense and pitching caught up with them. They never recovered, finishing the season 52-102.
They gave up 1199 runs that season; 1024 of them were earned runs. These two statements say pretty much all you need to know about their pitching and defense: they gave up 7.79 runs per game, 1.14 of which were unearned.
The Jays started poorly and their fortunes may be declining at the 53-game mark. On May 10, they lost to Boston 5-0 to drop their record to 13-24. Then on May 29, the beat the Atlanta Braves 3-0. Their record stood at 23-30. They followed this brief high-point (10-6 over 19 days) with a 2-game skid, as their pitching and defense began to decline again. Whether they recover or not is a story that remains to be told. Presently they’ve given up 286 runs, 33 of which are unearned. They’re on pace to give up 842 runs and 97 unearned runs. Given the differences in their respective eras, the similarities are uncanny, almost eerie.
The most likely team to win 55 games (the present-day equivalent to 52 wins in 1930) is the Houston Astros, not the Toronto Blue Jays but don’t count the Blue Jays out yet. The 1930 Phils were a poor-pitching, poor defense team that scored and gave up runs extravagantly; the 2013 Blue Jays are a poor-pitching, poor defense team that scores and gives up runs extravagantly. The Phillies had a real-life star named Chuck Klein. The Jays have a real-life star named Jose Bautista. The Phillies had a bunch of guys, like Monk Sherlock, that were no more than utility players. The Jays have a bunch of guys who are no more than utility players.
Replacing our game-to-game Melky tracker will be a game-to-game comparison to the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies called ‘Chasing the 1930 Phillies’ or something like that. Which way will the Jays go, toward the 1930 Phils or toward pre-season expectations? Stay tuned!